As a general rule I tend to avoid convenience products: Anything that seems to promise a little too much or claim to be a bit too handy I end up sneering at.
I don’t know why I’m like this. Was I tragically disappointed in some product from a childhood and can’t trust marketing promises as an adult? Is it my natural thriftiness that keeps me from trying new products? Or is it just good old pure stubbornness?
I’ve done it again and again through life. Got some fancy new cleaning product with a bunch of automatic scrubbing brushes and targeted spray nozzles? No thanks; I’ve got a can of Ajax and one of those sponges with the soft yellow side and a rough green one. An automatic mixer? Hey, my tennis elbow has been feeling a lot better recently, no need to go crazy.
Nowhere has this rule been more self-defeating than my annual battle with the snow-covered driveway.
Every year since I was a high schooler I strap on my boots, get the shovel out of the shed, and push through 16 tons of number 9 snow. This does not come naturally to me. For half a year I work a typical office job where I spend most of the day preventing a chair from floating away. But come winter, I expect myself to turn into John Henry. And every year I pay the price. Chronic back pain. Slips and twisted ankles. Frostbite and flus. Every year I find some new and exciting way to punish myself keeping the laneway clear.
Oh, I’ve tried different things: Better brands of road salt, different shovels. Once I got one of those ergonomic shovels with the curvy S-shaped handles (a shape seemingly designed to make hefting snow approximately 15 times harder than it already is). Another year I had one of those industrial looking scoops with two connected handles (good right up to the point where you collect too much snow in the blade and can’t physically push it another inch). I’ve snapped shovels in two trying to lift particularly heavy loads, I’ve chipped and ruined blades hacking a built up ice on the stoop. Every time I give them a dignified little nod before tossing them in the trash and heading out to pick up my next tool.
But never a snow blower. That is the one line I wouldn’t cross. Why should I spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a machine to push around pound after pound of snow when I have a (semi) healthy spine that could haul that weight instead?
Last year, thanks to a gift from a neighbour relocating down south, I finally got my answer.
Save your spine
Look, nobody wants to admit they were wrong. I’d like to tell you "well, using a snow blower was okay I guess.” I’d like to be able to say that by the time you get a snow blower out of the shed, start it up, and put it away you just about broke even in terms of effort, but I’d be lying. Using a snow blower was an order of magnitude easier when it came to clearing large snowfalls. Last year wasn’t the worst in terms of snowfall in Ontario, but we did get a few doozies, and on those days I was able to clear the driveway in a few easy breezy minutes. No huffing and puffing, no aching back, no frozen cheeks or fingers.
This isn’t just a matter of comfort either, it is a serious health concern. Every year, Canadian’s die shovelling their laneways. It sounds like the kind of gallows humour you’d exchange with the neighbour about keeling over on your shovel, but it really happens. A study from Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at more than 68,000 heart attack deaths in Quebec between 1981 and 2014 – from November to April – the snow fall months and found that more than a third of them happened within a day of heavy snowfall. The more snow that fell over a period, the more concentrated the number of heart attacks.
This isn’t even getting into all the other injuries. I’ve been glib about my personal battle scars, but it is incredibly easy to damage your back lifting heavy snow, especially if you’re not used to regular physical labour. This is especially pressing the older you get and if you have any other conditions or injuries to work around. It’s embarrassing but (eventually with enough distance) funny when I slip and get laid out like I was a snow angel shovelling the laneway. It’s less funny when your retired dad with the bad hip pulls the same move.
A snow blower is a can’t-lose investment in your health. Get one for yourself and make sure any of your older or infirm relatives has one as well.
Safer for everyone else too
The snow blower also (to my chagrin) does a better job than I ever did. It’s more even, it tosses the snow further into the banks (rather than building up and squeezing the size of the driveway) and is better around lifting out packed in snow like the kind that builds up under your tire treads. And because it is easier and faster, I found I was heading out more often and not letting the snow build up when it was coming down.
In particular, the snow blower did a much better job on the sidewalk in front of my home than I ever did. Typically, the sidewalk is the last place I shovel and by then I’m gassed. I’m not proud of it, but there are plenty of times I’ve done a one shovel strip down the middle of the sidewalk, sprinkled some salt on top and said, "good enough.” I’m very lucky no one ever took a tumble in front of my place because "I thought it was good enough” is not a super convincing argument in litigation.
This isn’t a commercial for snow blowers. I don’t have any purchasing recommendations beyond "you should probably get one.” This is an brokerage blog where we are concerned with the health, safety, and well-being of our clients. We look for ways to mitigate risk and improve your lives and I can tell you, as much as it pains me to admit, a snow blower is an easy (and fine, not that expensive) way to improve your life and protect your health.
Don’t spend another year being stubborn like me.